Archive for May, 2011

Exsequiarum Ordo

Rite of Burial

‘You need to say more prayers to St Michael, the rain is not stopping.’

‘Good idea, I will try the Latin one this time.’

One priest and four altar boys in a moving car under a darkened sky. Today was not a good day for a burial. It was pouring cats and dogs. We were hoping that the rain would stop before we got to the cemetery. Lim Chu Kang is home to farms, military camps and of course, dead people. It is very, very inaccessible. Thankfully we took Father’s car there. Still, the gravesite was not easy to locate. We had to make a few U-turns, even in the narrow lanes of the plot.

‘Are we supposed to turn right now? But it says Chinese Cemetery, not Christian Cemetery.’

The rain had not stopped by the time we arrived. There was little choice but to use the umbrellas, though they were of little help.  We carried all the liturgical items and vestments to a nearby shed, where we proceeded to vest. Fortunately we arrived before the hearse and the rest of the congregation.

The newly dug grave was on the far end of the plot, and we had to step over the existing graves in order to get to the other side. I felt mildly embarrassed for the poor souls. We gathered around the grave with our black umbrellas.

The grave is not a mere hole in the ground. It has concrete structures at the edges, almost like frames of a box. The soil was earthly orange. A large digging machine a few meters away was the instrument for this fine handiwork.

We first began with the blessing of the  grave. I passed the censer and incense boat to and fro from the brother server behind me. My hands were occupied with the bottle of holy water and a black umbrella. Father began with the prayers.

‘O God, by whose mercy the souls of the faithful find rest, vouchsafe to bless this grave, and appoint Thy holy Angel to keep it; and release the souls of all these whose bodies are buried here from every bond of sin, that they may always rejoice in Thee with Thy Saints for ever. Through Christ our Lord.’


The body was brought forward to the grave. It is not easy to lower a coffin into the grave. The eight gentlemen with the funeral company had attached two wooden spars to the coffin with an elaborate maze of ropes. This allowed the coffin to be suspended directly above the grave. It was not a pleasant or comfortable duty, especially not with this weather. They were dressed in white dress shirts and dark trousers but were totally soaked to the skin. They removed their shoes and socks as well. By comparison, I was reasonably dry under my umbrella.

Father began to intone the Benedictus antiphon, ‘Ego sum resurrectio et vita: qui credit in me, etiam si mortuus fuerit, vivet: et omnis qui vivit et credit in me, non morietur in aeternum.’

‘Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel…’

‘Requiem aternam dona eis, Domine.’

‘Et lux perpetua luceat eis.’ And once more the antiphon.’

‘Kyrie Eleison. Christe Eleison. Kyrie Eleison. Pater noster..’

I passed the holy water forward. And Father sprinkled the body. One normally sees the drops of holy water fly through the air. Not today. The heavy rain washed everything down. In any case, it was hard to distinguish the tears of the bereaved from the rain drops.

It was time for the burial. The gentlemen began to uncoil the ropes. I was amazed with the ropework. It was designed to lower the body bit by bit till the coffin touched the deepest earth.

‘And lead us not into temptation.’

‘But deliver us from evil.’

‘From the gate of hell.’

‘Deliver his soul O Lord.’

Once the concluding prayers were chanted, we turned away and returned to the shed. The mourners began laying flowers in the grave. Words of comfort and courtesy were exchanged at the shelter.

The work being completed, the rain finally began to subside. It stopped while we were driving out from the area. As they say, it never rains, but pours.

The Legion as a way of life

Last month we went to several parishes to carry out recruitment of new Legion members. Part of this includes visiting several catechism classes to introduce ourselves and our organization. Some of the encounters made me think very hard afterward.

At one particular parish, this was the last catechism class we were slated to visit. So I entered the classroom with 3 of my legionaries, and 2 of them were from that parish.  The catechist was this mustachioed man, that somehow reminds me of a sergeant major. So the first thing he asked was where we were from and why we were there. The second question was directed at one of my members. Why are you dressed immodestly? Are you setting a good example for these children here? Not that my member was dressed very scantily. She was wearing a dress, with bare shoulders. So we were left speechless for a while,  and obviously that visit to the class didn’t go very well. Well I am happy for that parish, at least they have one catechist who knows his stuff and expects high standards.

From this incident, we can derive much food for thought. When is it appropriate to dress inappropriately? We can even ask ourselves what manner of dressing is modest or immodest. But that is for another time.

But the point I’m trying to make is that, our manner and way of life is also linked to our identity as Legionaries. We are not merely Legionaries on the day of the meeting or on the day which we have an activity. We are Legionaries 24/7, 365 days a year. We are constantly being scrutinized. In this age of social media, the line between our private and public life is becoming blurred. We should learn to be prudent in what we express online.

The second thing that I was reflecting on is that, while we are taught not to judge others rashly, and not judge a book by its cover, we do live in an imperfect world, and we will in fact be judged by first impressions. We must be careful with first impressions. One of the most important lessons that I have learned from my uniformed group and army days is that bearing is extremely important. The way we carry ourselves shows a lot. Our outward behavior reflects our inward thinking, or even when we are not thinking.

At another parish I had to give a sharing to some confirmation year students. It was really difficult because I had to give the sharing in Mandarin. Sure, I can speak and write enough to get by, but it’s not exactly presentation grade Mandarin. I guess due to my nerves I was not natural enough and therefore I did not smile very much.

But I  did not realize until one of the catechists remarked that I should smile more and be more joyful. Fair enough, that’s something I can work on. People who meet me for the first time say that I do not smile. I have once been labeled as ‘The guy who does not smile’. There was once in BMT when my PC said to me, ‘You better smile! Or else!’

This is far cry from those who have seen me in my crazier moods, especially my Legion kids. Yet somehow I am a person who is seriously funny and so serious that it is funny at the same time.

This is a struggle for myself. Somehow I resist the idea of showing joy when I have not found it yet. This first half of the year has not been very joyful either.  But I will learn to take myself less seriously, in order to save a thousand souls and my own.

Dear legionaries, do not try to save the souls of others when you cannot save your own. May God have mercy on all of us.


Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us

Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us

Our Lady of Mount Carmel, pray for us

Stella Matutina, ora pro nobis

Our Lady of Perpetual Succor, pray for us

St Michael the Archangel, pray for us

St Jude, pray for us

St Benedict, pray for us

St Dominic, pray for us

St Anthony, pray for us